EAST LANSING, MI – Our book reviewer Lev Raphael switches places with WKAR's Melissa Benmark, and she interviews him about his latest Kindle book, Rosedale in Love.
LEV RAPHAEL: I've always been in love with the Gilded Age. I mean, it's an incredible period in New York's history, in American history, which makes people like Donald Trump seem like pikers. People back then knew how to spend money in ways that our millionaires and billionaires cannot imagine. So that's one aspect of it.
The other thing was, I love Edith Wharton, but I have always been troubled by her portrait of the Jewish broker in The House of Mirth, which is one of my favorite novels of hers. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought, well, why don't I write his novel. Why don't I write a Gilded Age novel from his standpoint, and the standpoint of everybody in his family? And once I thought that, the door opened and I was in. I walked right through.
MELISSA BENMARK: The language is somewhat contemporary at times, but it also stylistically takes you really back to that era. How did you manage that balance between keeping the modern reader, and in my case, someone who's never read Edith Wharton, I'm sorry to say, to keep that person enthralled and yet have that attention to detail that's so characteristic of the writing of that age?
RAPHAEL: That came to me through reading books written in the period of 1900 to about 1910, and soaking up the atmosphere, the detail, and the voice. So I wanted this to feel as if it might have been written at the same time Edith Wharton wrote her book.
But the thing that contemporary readers will get is that, that period was so much like ours in terms of conspicuous consumption and not caring about people who have less than the wealthy do that, uh, it's time travel. You know, you go back, and you think, I'm in another period, but it's oddly familiar.
BENMARK: And speaking of that, there's a passage I'd like you to read that, when I got to it, completely made me think of the cult of personality that we have in today's society. I was wondering if you'd read that part.
RAPHAEL: Yes. This was a period when they were, people were first starting to use publicists. This was a brand-new profession. And here's Rosedale, thinking about all of that. And back then, people used publicists even as they said well, I don't really want publicity. So, nothing has changed except now we have the Internet.
"Rosedale could imagine someday hiring a publicist himself, for he would not want to figure among the ranks of those whose dark stories were no less enticing than reports of triumphant cotillions. These characters would have preferred a veil of privacy drawn across their indiscretions which turned the age from one of gilt to one of guilt. The opprobrious narratives in which they were featured tore down the high and mighty with the same kind of avidity with which New Yorkers tore apart their own city, building and demolishing in a lust for wealth and power that had led to its springing ever northward, like a fairytale hero with his seven league boots, striding from the Battery to Murray Hill, to the fringes of Central Park and ever onward to the far reaches of the Bronx, gobbling up wilderness, fields, and farms."
And that's really what the book is about. The book is about people who have money and power, and those who don't, and how can those who don't, survive, especially women. But the flip side is, having money and power, do you want more, how can you use it, what good is it, and what are its limitations? And that, I think, makes it very American.